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District of Columbia

D.C. judge orders Casa Ruby placed under temporary receivership

Wanda Alston Foundation, Safe Haven being considered to take over

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Ruby Corado participated in Thursday’s hearing remotely. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday, Aug. 11, approved a request by the Office of the D.C. Attorney General to place D.C.’s LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby under temporary receivership to stabilize its finances and determine whether it can resume operating after it shut down its programs last month.

Among those who spoke at the virtual hearing was Casa Ruby founder and former executive director Ruby Corado, who said she did not oppose a limited receivership order. Corado spoke through an audio connection rather than appearing on video as did the judge and representatives of the Attorney General’s Office.  

Also appearing on video for the hearing were representatives of two LGBTQ organizations that the AG’s office has named as candidates to become the Casa Ruby receiver – the D.C.-based Wanda Alston Foundation and the Baltimore-based Safe Haven, which has announced plans to open a facility in D.C.

In response to a request by Adam Gitlin, chief of the AG office’s Public Integrity Section, Judge Danya A. Dayson agreed to give the AG’s office one more day to decide which of the two groups would be named as the Casa Ruby receiver. After listening to testimony by June Crenshaw, the Alston Foundation executive director, and Iya Dammons, Safe Haven’s founder and executive director, Dayson said either of the two groups would be acceptable to her as the receiver.

The judge directed the AG’s office to submit a proposed order naming the receiver by the end of the business day on Friday, Aug. 12.

Dayson’s ruling approving a receivership for Casa Ruby came eight days after she approved a separate request by the D.C. AG’s office calling for a temporary restraining order to freeze all bank accounts and PayPal accounts held by Casa Ruby.

The call for both the restraining order and the receivership were introduced in court by the AG’s office on Aug. 1 in an emergency motion asserting that both Casa Ruby and Corado had violated the city’s Nonprofit Corporations Act in connection with their financial dealings.

“Casa Ruby’s operations suggest clear patterns of gross mismanagement and poor oversight of its programs and finances,” D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement at the time the motion was filed in court. “Instead of fulfilling its important mission of providing transitional housing and support to LGBTQ+ youth, Casa Ruby diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars of District grants and charitable donations from their intended purpose,” Racine said.

He was referring to allegations in the AG office’s civil court filing that Corado used funds from the D.C. Casa Ruby to open a Casa Ruby LGBTQ shelter in El Salvador without any documented authorization from the Casa Ruby board of directors, which the court filings say rarely met and failed to provide oversight over Corado or Casa Ruby.

During the Aug. 11 virtual court hearing, Corado disputed the allegations, saying among other things, that claims that she was not in communication with the Casa Ruby board was a “misconception.”

Corado did not say in her remarks at the virtual court hearing where she is currently residing. Members of the Casa Ruby staff have said Corado had been in Salvador for most of the time this year and in recent weeks the staff was unable to reach her to discuss Casa Ruby related business. Staff members also reported that they had not been paid for over a month and a financial crisis prevented them from continuing any of Casa Ruby’s remaining programs.

In her comments at the Aug. 11 hearing, Corado said the funding crisis was caused by D.C. government agencies that she said failed to reimburse Casa Ruby close to $150,000 in grant funds that she said the city was committed to pay for services that Casa Ruby had already performed.

But email correspondence between officials with the D.C. Department of Human Services, which has provided most of the Casa Ruby grant funding, and Casa Ruby officials other than Corado, indicates the funding was withheld because Casa Ruby failed to comply with various grant requirements, including not having a functioning board of directors. One or more of the employees released the correspondence to the media.

“I believe that when the facts, as someone stated earlier, stop being allegations and actually become facts that you, Your Honor, will have an opportunity to understand the ramification of the allegations,” Corado said during the hearing. “There are people, including myself, who have received death threats over things that are not true,” she told the judge.

Gitlin of the AG’s office, while not specifically responding to Corado’s allegations, said his office has met the legal requirement needed to have Casa Ruby placed under receivership.

“In short, we do have reason to believe that Casa Ruby currently continues to be out of compliance with the Nonprofit Corporations Act, continues to be unable to meet its obligations, and its assets are in serious question,” he told the judge. “And so, we believe the requirements for the receivership statute have been met.”

He said the two groups under consideration to become the receiver are “both nonprofits in good standing with experience doing many of the services that Casa Ruby performed.” He added, “Both have pledged that even if they are not appointed receiver, they are happy to help because they care about the community that needs to be served.”

He concluded by saying the AG’s office would like whichever group is chosen as the receiver to “first assess the assets and liabilities that are outstanding for Casa Ruby, figure out whether a board can be reconstituted, and assess otherwise whether there is a path forward for the organizations.” Gitlin said the other option that the receiver should consider is whether its recommendation should be for “an orderly wind down in the way a nonprofit normally would” to end its operations.

Judge Dayson ordered that whichever group is chosen to be the receiver, which she was to approve the following day on Aug. 12, will be required to submit a report to the court on Sept. 13, 2022, on the status of its work. She scheduled a status hearing on the case for Sept. 29 at which time she directed Corado to arrange to have an attorney representing her.  

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District of Columbia

GW transgender, nonbinary student group criticizes Utah governor’s on campus comments 

Spencer Cox decried ‘genital-mutilation surgeries’

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Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (Photo courtesy of Cox's office)

A George Washington University transgender and nonbinary student group has criticized Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s comments about gender-affirming health care that he made last week during an on-campus.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox on Feb. 21 described gender-affirming health care as “genital-mutilation surgeries” during a “Disagree Better” event the university’s School of Media and Public Affairs hosted. Jonah Goldberg, a conservative writer and commentator, and NPR “Morning Edition” host Michel Martin also participated in the event that Frank Sesno, a GWU School of Media and Public Affairs professor who was previously CNN’s Washington Bureau chief, moderated.

The Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in a post to its Instagram page said it is “hurt, ashamed and frustrated that such harmful language was allowed to be given a platform on our campus.”

“Fear mongering claims that young trans people are ‘mutilating our bodies’ are factually incorrect and damaging to our community,” said the group in its post that notes the event took place days after Nex Benedict, a nonbinary student in Oklahoma, died after a fight in their high school’s bathroom. “Gender-affirming care for minors saves lives, and is approved by reputable institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association.”

The GW Hatchet notes Cox told Sesno that he invited trans youth and their families to the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City “to discuss state measures that pertain to transgender people, a conversation that he said led to legislative change.” 

Cox in 2022 vetoed a bill that banned trans students from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The Utah Legislature later overrode his veto.

The governor last year signed a bill that bans gender-affirming health care for minors in his state. Cox last month signed a bill that prevents trans and nonbinary people from using restrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings that correspond to their gender identity.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox in response to a student’s question said “no one” in Utah has died by suicide because they were unable to access gender-affirming care.

“I care deeply about these kids. I love these kids. I want these kids to thrive. I want these kids to be successful,” Cox said, according to the GW Hatchet. “I think there’s a better way to do that than by having genital-mutilation surgeries before they’re 18 and old enough to have a rational decision, to actually make a decision for themselves. And so we can disagree with that.”

“As the only trans student org at GW, we refuse to let our community have their right to exist be put up for debate and threatened by disinformation,” said the Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in their statement. “We call on GW administration to consider ways in which they can repair the harm caused by Gov. Cox’s statements on campus, and make the safety of their trans students, faculty and staff a priority in a sociopolitical climate that is fixated on our eradication.”

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District of Columbia

Nex Benedict honored at D.C. candlelight vigil

Upwards of 100 people paid tribute to nonbinary Okla. student at As You Are

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A candlelight vigil is held outside of the LGBTQ café and bar As You Are on Feb. 22, 2024, for 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Nearly 100 people turned out on Feb. 22 for a candlelight vigil hosted by the D.C. LGBTQ café and bar As You Are to pay tribute to 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict.

Benedict died Feb. 8 at a hospital in Owasso, Okla., one day after family members say Benedict was beaten up by three older female students in an Owasso High School bathroom after a fight broke out. Owasso police have said they are investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death but said preliminary autopsy findings do not show the death was caused by physical injuries.

Family members, including Benedict’s mother, told news media outlets that Benedict suffered severe bruises to their face and head and the family believes the injuries from an assault caused their child’s death. Family members have also said Benedict had been targeted for bullying at school because of their status as a nonbinary person.

People who spoke at the As You Are candlelight vigil said they considered the death an anti-LGBTQ hate crime.

“Today we are brought together to mourn the loss of Nex Benedict,” As You Are co-owner Rachel “Coach” Pike told the gathering, which was held on the As You Are outdoor patio and surrounding sidewalk. “Nex Benedict, your life matters. It will always matter, and more than that your life was precious,” Pike said.

“You had the right to live as you were and all parts of your identity were beautiful and should have been celebrated, supported, and safe,” Pike added.

Pike and other speakers, some of whom identified as nonbinary and transgender, pointed out that Benedict’s family are members of the Choctaw Nation, a Native American community. A speaker at the vigil who identified himself as Bo and said he identified as a two-spirit individual called on the gathering to pay tribute to Benedict’s role as one of the Choctaw people.

“When I first heard the news of Nex Benedict’s murder I was shocked,” Bo said. “I thought of how young. I thought about how much life was taken from this child.”

Another speaker, native American advocate Shiala King, whose family are members of the Sicangu Lakota Nation in South Dakota, arranged for her father, Frank John King, a faith leader and medicine man, to speak to the gathering by phone hookup from his residence in South Dakota. After greeting the gathering and expressing his condolences over the death of Benedict, Frank King further honored Benedict by singing a spiritual song in the Lakota language as part of a tradition of uplifting the spirit of beloved people who pass away.

Jo McDaniel, the other co-owner of As You Are whose also Pike’s spouse, said they were pleased with the response to their announcement of the vigil on social media. 

“To see this child taken from us this way, it’s chilling and it’s horrible and it’s not right and it’s not fair,” McDaniel told the Washington Blade after the vigil ended. “And so, we knew that the only thing we could do to help our community heal was to gather. And we wanted to do that in as honorable and wonderful a way as possible as that kid deserves,” she said.

Sue Benedict, Nex Benedict’s mother, told the British newspaper The Independent that Nex was a “courageous, smart teenager who had simply been living their true identity.” The Independent reports that Sue Benedict said Nex had been subjected to taunts, insults and bullying due to their gender fluid identity for over a year. 

Owasso police officials have said detectives were interviewing school officials and students to obtain more details on how the fight started and whether charges will be brought against those who allegedly assaulted Benedict. A police spokesperson told The Independent police were awaiting the findings of toxicology and autopsy reports from the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office to determine whether anyone will be charged with a criminal offense.

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District of Columbia

New gay bar on 14th Street to open in April

Owners say Crush to offer ‘cozy, inclusive space’

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Exterior of Crush. (Photo courtesy of Crush)

A new D.C. bar catering to the LGBTQ community called Crush is expected to open for business in April in a two-story building with a roof garden at 2007 14th St., N.W., in the center of one of the city’s bustling nightlife neighborhoods. 

A statement released by co-owners Mark Rutstein and Stephen Rutgers says the new bar will provide an atmosphere that blends “nostalgia with contemporary nightlife” in a building that once was home to a popular music store and radio supply shop.

“This new venue, catering especially to the LGBTQ+ community, offers a cozy, inclusive space that reminisces about the times of record stores and basement hangouts with friends,” the statement says. “In its past life as a music store and radio supply shop, Crush transforms its legacy into a modern-day haven,” the statement continues. “It features top-notch DJ booths, a dance floor and a summer garden, alongside a premium sound system to ensure every night is memorable.” 

Rutstein told the Washington Blade the new bar will have a capacity of accommodating 300 people on its two floors. He notes that the name ‘Crush” stems from the romantic crush that people often have for one another and his and Rutgers’ new bar is aimed at providing a friendly space for people to meet and socialize. 

“We’re looking to be inclusive to everyone,” Rutstein said. “It’s certainly going to be heavy on the LGBT community” because he and Rutgers have been part of that community for many years. But he added, “We want to be inclusive to gays and lesbians being able to bring their friends and allies in along with them and not feel weird about it.” 

Crush will be located across the street from the Reeves Center D.C. municipal building where government agencies and community groups, including the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, has its office. 

“Crush isn’t just our name,” the statement issued by Rutstein and Rutgers says. “It’s the essence of our space. We aim to create an atmosphere where everyone can celebrate life and love.”

Editor’s note: Stephen Rutgers is the Blade’s Director of Sales and Marketing.

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